Governor asks Idaho residents for help preventing wildfires

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho residents and visitors need to help prevent wildfires in what could be a challenging season with continued high temperatures and most of the state in drought, Gov. Brad Little said.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that there’s a potential for multiple giant wildfires in Idaho that use up firefighting resources and leave some areas unprotected. He spoke at an outdoor news conference hazy with smoke from wildfires from nearby states.

“My fear is that we will have some of these great big mega-fires that start creating their own weather, like the one that is over in Oregon, where I think a lot of this smoke is coming from, that basically endanger communities, they endanger firefighters, they endanger precious wildlife and watershed capacity,” he said.

Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years, and scientists have long warned that the weather will get wilder as the world warms. Special calculations are needed to determine how much global warming is to blame, if at all, for a single extreme weather event.

Little has already tapped the Idaho National Guard in what could be the worst wildfire season in the state in years. That includes the use of helicopters that can fight fires, transport firefighters or deliver supplies.

The governor made the comments at the National Interagency Fire Center, a multi-agency entity in Boise that coordinates the nation’s wildfire resources. Little was joined at the news conference by state and federal wildfire managers, who also asked people to be careful in not accidentally starting wildfires.

“Every fire that doesn’t start is a fire that we don’t have to send resources to, and we can concentrate on the work at hand,” said Grant Beebe, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s assistant director for Fire and Aviation.

Beebe said there are currently 12,000 firefighters on fire lines, with many thousands more available. But he said managers have to be careful that firefighters aren’t overworked with months to go in a wildfire season that looks to be unusually hot and dry.

So far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, there have been nearly 34,000 wildfires that have burned more than 3,000 square miles (7,800 square kilometers). Humans cause about 87% of all wildfires each year, the center said.

The center also said there are 67 large wildfires burning, with Idaho and Arizona accounting for 13 large wildfires apiece.

“The biggest issue we face right now is extremely limited resources to manage these fires, including a lack of aircraft and crews on the ground,” said Dustin Miller, director of the Idaho Department of Lands. “We typically tap into our shared resources during these times, but they have very limited availability due to fires in our neighboring states.”

After the news conference, Little toured the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Boise Smokejumpers base, but all the smokejumpers are out fighting fires.